Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a speech on state television for the Persian New Year, praised Iranians for their “dazzling” sacrifices in fighting the coronavirus outbreak in the worst-hit country in West Asia.
Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, said it had been a tumultuous year for Iranians who have endured US sanctions, floods, and the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,400 people in Iran and infected nearly 20,000.
“These acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers and the staff working in hospitals,” said Khamenei, who looked healthy despite rumours that he had been infected with the new coronavirus.
Officials close to Khamenei, contacted by Reuters on Wednesday, denied the rumours.
Nowruz, or“new day” in Persian, is an ancient celebration and the most important date in the calendar, when families gather and exchange gifts. But the coronavirus has overshadowed the celebrations.
“Last year was a tumultuous year for the Iranian nation,” Khamenei said. “It was a year that began with the floods and that ended with the coronavirus...but we will overcome all hardships with unity.”
He named the new year: “The year of boosting production”.
In a separate message, President Hassan Rouhani said Iranians praised doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting the disease.
Millions of Iranians are now confined within their own walls for the New Year celebrations. But police said many defied warnings by health officials to stay home and avoid crowds by heading to the Caspian coast, a favourite destination during the Nowruz holidays.
Unlike in his usual fiery speeches, the anti-US hardliner Khamenei refrained from attacking Iran’s longtime foe in his remarks. “Iran benefited from America's sanctions. It made us self-sufficient in all areas,” Khamenei said.
Friction between Tehran and Washington has increased since 2018 when US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions.